A commercial barrister who was fined by a Bar disciplinary tribunal earlier this month for handling £5,000 of client money, faces suspension after a second tribunal found that he later handled a further £400,000 from another direct access client.
Oliver White, based at 4-5 Grays Inn Square and described on its website as a “highly sought-after commercial barrister”, was also found to have wrongly told a law firm that he was entitled to conduct litigation.
Earlier this month Mr White was banned from handling public access cases for six months and fined £1,000 for failing to co-operate with the Legal Ombudsman and BSB, after he was found to have handled £5,000 from a client, part of which was intended to be paid to a “third-party investigation agency”.
The second Bar disciplinary tribunal to rule on him within two weeks, chaired by retired judge His Honour John Price, found that in June 2014 the barrister “received, controlled and/or handled” £400,000 of client money, while acting on a direct access basis.
The tribunal said he “failed to act with integrity” by writing an e-mail to his solicitors the following month in relation to the money, in which he claimed to be entitled to “conduct litigation with all the same freedoms that a solicitor is able to operate within”.
In fact, the tribunal went on, he was not entitled to conduct litigation and he was not entitled to “receive, control or handle client money”.
The tribunal found that Mr White’s purpose in writing such a statement was to “dissuade the client [or their solicitors] from complaining” to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) that he had breached the professional conduct rules.
Mr White then, according to the tribunal, “failed to promptly or at all” provide the BSB information which it requested from him.
He failed to reply to a letter and e-mail sent to him in September 2014 requiring him to provide written comments on the complaint made about his professional conduct by 20 October 2014, despite a reminder letter and e-mail sent to him the week before.
Mr White was suspended for three months, the suspension to start after the end of the 21-day appeal period. He was fined a total of £2,000.
Sara Jagger, director of professional conduct for the BSB, said: “The trust and confidence the public places in barristers – and the reputation of the Bar – depends on barristers behaving with integrity.
“Mr White behaved without integrity when he failed to check what his powers were as a public access barrister.
“They did not include handling client money or conducting litigation. Our concerns about his conduct led to Mr White being suspended for three months.”
Mr White told Legal Futures after the first tribunal that he admitted the first charge relating to handling client money, which was the result of an oversight, but was appealing against sentence. He added that the BSB had expressly stated that there was no suggestion of dishonesty. He has not yet responded to a request for comment about the second tribunal.